The irony of cuteness: Meta Mascot explores mascot culture and its more sinister undertones
Meta Mascot, created by Jae Ee and Sangah Shin, is a conceptual typeface echoing the visual traits of the famously cute mascot.
- Jyni Ong
- 14 January 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
When Sangah Shin and Jae Ee met at the type biennale, Typojianchi back in 2019, the pair found a mutual interest in the ambivalence of cuteness. Both graphic designers, the two quickly realised that they had a penchant for the psychology behind cuteness and decided to embark on a new project exploring such. Focusing on mascot culture, the pair delved into the representation of nonhuman objects and the cuteness that often ensues to represent the spirit of on entity. “We wanted to deal with both the verbal and non-verbal concept of a mascot metaphorically throughout this project,” Jae adds on the project known as Meta Mascot.
At the centre of the project is a conceptual typeface by the same name, a design informed by the culmination of visual research, object installations and web application. A variant typeface characterised by indeterminacy between form and letter, it also bears similar visual traits to the cute mascot. More namely it is round, pudgy and undefined. Each letterform creates a whole new mascot depending on the word arranged. The longer the word, the more amorphous the mascot.
“We are interested in the irony of cuteness as an aesthetic of powerlessness which subverts a relationship between the power and the powerless, therefore creating an ambivalence,” says Jae. The designer, who has nursed an interest in the marginal aesthetics of vernacular design for years now, has taken his research one step further with this collaboration with Sangah. Drawing parallels between the visual culture of cuteness and commercialism, Meta Mascot makes the ironic grammar of cuteness known and comments on how this algorithm is often exploited to make a profit.
The project, in turn, is just as much about research as it is the final typographic output. Sangah and Jae have meticulously studied the relationship between cuteness and the commodity market and as a consequence, experiment with “the ironic principles of cuteness as an agent of power to apply a social, political and ecological context from a minority point of view.” Currently, the project consists of a book and object installations and hopes to develop into a workable variable font in the future. By crafting it into a variable font, the pair hope to further emphasise the formlessness of the typeface which will slide between liquid and solid from one extreme to another.
While Jae has a background in exploring the conceptual, visual and functional elements of the vernacular, Sangah, on the other hand, likes to incorporate psychology and philosophy into her practice. Currently both based in Seoul, Sangah recently graduated from Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem where she first became interested in the politics of kitsch and cuteness. “This interest is closely related to my accumulated experiences as a female who ‘looks younger’ in Korean society, where the attitude and language of relationships are determined based on age.”
During her master’s degree, she created two projects which looked into this. The first, The Mallangcholy Club, interprets cuteness as a visual auditory experience. The title is a compound of the word ‘malling’ which means soft in Korean, and the word melancholy. The second, her project Follow the Eyes, investigates the connotations of cuteness and how it is often paired with vulnerability and incompetence. “From a linguistic perspective,” she adds, “cuteness can also be associated with silence and muteness, as we see from the popularity of many mouthless mascots such as Hello Kitty and Miffy.”
Similarly, Meta Mascot takes this linguistic perspective one step further by creating a type design which is semi-functional to reflect the misgivings of cuteness as a concept. As it stands, the project has expanded to include a cushion, installation and web-environment; each output reflecting a different avenue of research. While the web-environment reverses the typical idea of cuteness to boom an aggressive act of invasion, the installation touches on object fetishism and the cushion, tactility. With a variable font on the cards in the near future, Sangah and Jae also plan to expand the project into a multimedia typography performance playing on changing cultural contexts in an existing place.
Jae Ee and Sangah Shin: Meta Mascot (Copyright © Jae Ee and Sangah Shin, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.